Short Essays on the role of caste in Indian politics

The term caste has been derived from the Portuguese term caste which means race, breed or kind.

Prof. Blunt defines caste as "endogamous group or collection of endogamous groups, bearing a common name, membership of which is hereditary, imposing on its members certain restrictions in matters of social intercourse either following a common traditional occupation or claiming a common origin, and generally regarded as forming a single homogenous community."

Prof. Fairchild defines it as "homogenous, endogamous social control organisation with distinctive rituals, especially those pertaining to a religious purity. Each caste and sub-caste is given an official status, rating higher low according to the date of its origin, its supposed one time occupation and the strictness of its morals and religious codes."

According to Prof. M.N. Srinivas, "A Sociologist would define caste as a hereditary, endogamous, usually localised group, having a tradition association with an occupation and a particular position in the local hierarchy of castes. Relations between castes and governed, among other things by the concepts of pollution and purity and generally maximum commensality occurs within the caste."

A perusal of the above definitions of caste will show that different scholars have viewed caste from different angles. Some view it as a special type of social stratification, others views it as an ethnographic category relevant only to the Hindus of India or a structure phenomenon.

However, one thing is quite clear that present caste system is quite a complex phenomenon and should never be equated with Varnashram of the Hindu scriptures.

Caste system is a predominant feature of the social structure in India. It is an inscriptive system of status and hierarchy. It is pervasive and all embracing and controls and defines all social, economic and political relationships for the individual.

The Hindu tradition owes the origin of caste system Jo the four Varnas the Brahmin who sprang from the mouth of a deity, the Kshatriya who was created from his arms: the Vaishya who was created from his stomach and the Sudras who rise from his feet.

Brahmins were given the highest status because of their birth from the mouth. The Kshyatriyas were considered vigorous because they were created from arms. The Vaisjiyas were meant to be businessmen. Being created from the feet the sudras were considered to be the carriers of others.

As the traditional social system in India is organized around caste structures and cafe entities, it would be interesting to study its implications on politics.

Nature of Caste:

In India caste identity and solidarities are the primary channels through which electoral and political support is mobilized within the political system.

The caste plank is used more extensively in rural areas and the political parties find it easier to mobilize support directly from the members of a caste community by appealing to them.

The present political System encourages the use of caste as a means of mustering support as well as a means to enable the illiterate and politically ignorant masses of India to participate in the modern democratic process where the caste structure provides one of the most important organizational clusters in which the population is bound to live, politics must-strive to organize through such a structure.

Politics finds material for its articulation by drawing the caste system into its web and moulding it into its own design. Caste by making politics their sphere of activity asserts their identity. Politicians mobilize caste groupings and identities in order to organize their power.

In the context of interactions between caste and politics Rajni Kothari has pointed out three major aspects of caste system.

Firstly, the secular dimension by which it is evident that caste as a stratified system has not received much attention. In fact caste system is predominated by factionalism and caste cleavages, patterns of alignment and realignment among the various strata and a continuous striving for social mobility.

Secondly, the integration dimension by which the caste system not only determines the individual's social status on the basis of the group to which he is born but also differentials and assigns occupational and economic roles. It thus gives a place to every individual from the highest to the lowest and makes for a high degree of identification and integration

Thirdly, the dimension of consciousness by which as Rani Kathari puts it, "It is not politics that gets caste ridden it is caste that gets politicized."

Propagation of Casteism:

The election procedures done much to encourage the caste system because the candidates ant to achieve their ends by propagating casteism among the others. People are asked to vote for their caste candidate and his casteism is maintained by the elected leaders after elections are over.

The political behaviour of the people of the members of different political parties and of the members of the government is caste oriented. Their attitudes and values are caste based.

People of a caste vote embolic for a candidate of the same of different caste either in pursuance of the decision of the caste panchayat or of a meeting of caste members or even without a formal decision. Even when they do not vote en bloc, they prefer a candidate of their own caste to other candidates irrespective of the merits or demerits of the candidates.

The selection of the candidates for a constituency is based on whether he will be able to get the support of a particular caste or castes. Even the caste of those recommending a candidate plays an important role.

When a single caste is not likely to be effective alliance are formed on caste basis by the candidates or by the voters: Even the office bearers of a party are appointed on the basis of caste to please a caste group in the party and in the constituency.

If the caste candidate happens to belongs to the caste in majority having large voters it is presumed that he will be selected because of his association with such a caste.

Caste Politics in Different States:

Bihar occupies the first position where caste basis predominates over its politics. The recent politics in Bihar is articulated in terms of the backward vs the forward.

In Kerala also caste considerations have played an important role. It is generally held that four major groups are contending for a dominant place in the political life of the states; Nairs, Ezhavas, Christians and Muslims.

Ezhavas number 26.4 percent followed by Christians with 21.17 percent, Muslims number 19.5 percent and Nairs with 12.5 percent. Each of them dominates a particular region of Kerala. Malabar area is exclusively dominated by Muslims, the Christians dominate Ernakulam and Kottayam districts, Nairs from the dominant community in Trivandrum district and Ezhavas are particularly strong in palghat.

In Andhra Pradesh caste politics is reflected the Kammas and Reddys. The important castes in the state are the Brahwmins, the Reddys, the Kammas the Harijans, the Velamas, the Rajus and the Kapus, Reddys and the Kammas are politically dominant and numerically strongest in the state.

In Haryana jats form the dominant political force as they constitute about 23 percent of the total population. The jats are followed by scheduled castes constituted of Chamars weavers and sweepers. Even Brahmins occupy powerful positions in the state dis proportionate to their population due to their class and literal superiority.

In other states like Karnataka the buttle is mainly between two dominant castes Lingayats and Okkliga. In Maharashtra the caste politics is played amongst three main castes Marathas. Brahmins and Maha. In Punjab the conflict is one of religious communities not of caste the Hindus and Sikhs.

The New emerging castes in the form of OBCS:

The three Sawarna castes have dominated the religion, political, economic and social life of his country. Even today Brahmins, Thakurs and Kayasthas form the Chunk of power. But Brahmins constitute only 5.5 percent and Kshatriyas hardly 4 percent of the country's population.

The overall proportion of forward Hindu castes in India is only 17.6 percent whereas the scheduled castes and tribes together form 28 percent. In between these two aggregates there lies a vast number of other backward classes which forms 43.7 percent of our population.

There is vast difference in the caste scenario between southern and northern India. In the north there is the traditional Varna model of four castes whereas in the south there are only three caste groups namely Brahmins, non-Brahmins and SCs and STs.

In spite of the fact that they form only 3 percent of the population, the Brahmins dominate the service and cultural life of the south whereas in north kayasthas have pushed the Brahmins to the second place.

Caste antagonisms are much more fierce and violent in the north than in the south. In the eastern and north-eastern states the hold of caste is much weaker. For them regional and ethnic loyalties form importance.

The upsurge in caste conflicts after independence can be attributed to the fact that the backward castes have become more aware and are protesting against the in justice and inequality method out to them by a minority forward castes comprising only 17.6 percent of the country's population.

The other Backward castes assumed importance only after independence. It is a sort of residual category unlike the scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Swarna Hindu caste which have en quite clearly differentiated. There are about 3.000 / 4.000 such intermediate castes.

They have been able to register their power due to the abolition of zamindari system after independence, was Dr. Ram Manobar Lohia who far the first time put forth the idea of mustering the support of these backward castes so as to over throw the congress dominance. Now they have become the object at courtship by all political parties as they constituted half the population of the country.

According to S.N. Sadasivan caste "has factionalized national politics and caste politics breeds caste parties. He says that caste or combination of castes is the actual force behind every defection, faction, split or formation of a new party."

Caste associations and caste tactics have contributed much to the success of political democracy by providing bases for communication representation and leadership. Now the illiterate masses are no more ignorant regarding the effective participation in politics.

These backward classes have now become more influential and powerful in the state and society. Now they are in a position to change the tide of power and influence the decisions in their favour.